Ghostbusters (role-playing game)

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RPG Ghostbusters cover.jpg
Ghostbusters RPG, first edition cover
Designer(s)Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis, Greg Stafford
Publisher(s)West End Games
Publication date1986 (Ghostbusters)
1989 (Ghostbusters International)
System(s)Custom, became the D6 System

Ghostbusters is a comedy role-playing game designed by Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis and Greg Stafford and published by West End Games in 1986.[1] It is based on the 1984 film Ghostbusters.

The Ghostbusters RPG won the 1986 H.G. Wells Award for Best Roleplaying Rules.[2] In 1999 Pyramid magazine named Ghostbusters as one of The Millennium's Most Underrated Games. Editor Scott Haring noted that Ghostbusters was "the first-ever RPG to use the dice pool mechanic" and "the game did a great job of catching the zany feel of the movies."[3]


The Ghostbusters role-playing game is set in the same fictional universe as the Ghostbusters films, but in a period sometime after the first film. In the game, the original Ghostbusters have created a corporation known as Ghostbusters International, which sells Ghostbusters franchises to individuals around the world.

Most player characters in the Ghostbusters role-playing game are franchisees who operate in cities outside the film's New York locale. The game does, however, include profiles of the original four Ghostbusters for gamers who wish to role-play the cinematic characters or have them appear as non-player characters.

While the Ghostbusters films limit the Ghostbusters to combating ectoplasmic entities such as ghosts and demons, the Ghostbusters game expands the setting to pit Ghostbusters against numerous other paranormal creatures and incidents. Ghostbusters characters may encounter creatures as diverse as vampires, extraterrestrials, and time-travelers.


Ghostbusters features an intentionally minimalist rules system. The game's main rulebook, the Operations Manual, does not include rules for subjects like movement rates and weapon ranges; it explicitly states that they are unnecessary for play.

Character generation in Ghostbusters begins with a simple character point mechanic for assigning character attributes, which it calls Traits. Each character begins with 12 points, which the character's player assigns to the four Traits: Brains, Muscle, Moves, and Cool, giving each Trait a score between 1 and 5.

Each character must also be assigned four Talents. Talents (skills) are organized into groups based on which of the four Traits they're most associated with; each character has one Talent from each group. The character's score in each Talent is three points higher than the associated Trait. For example, one might have a Cool of four with Convince as his talent, making his dice pool on Convince rolls seven.

In some cases, certain equipment or circumstances might add additional dice to the pool. For example, one could have a Muscles of two with Brawl as his talent, for a dice pool of five. This could be further improved by picking up a wrench to use as a club in melee combat for two more dice, for a total dice pool of seven.

Most tasks in Ghostbusters are resolved by determining which Trait or (if appropriate) Talent is most relevant to the task at hand, and rolling a number of six-sided dice equal to that Trait or Talent's score. The results of the dice rolled are added, and the sum compared to a difficulty number assigned to the task by the Ghostmaster (gamemaster). If the player's roll equals or exceeds the difficulty number, the character succeeds at the task.

This basic dice pool mechanic has two additional game mechanics. The first, the Ghost Die, is a special die that represents bad luck, and can cause even successful actions to have negative effects for player characters. It has the Ghostbusters logo instead of a six, and when it comes up causes some unfortunate mishap. When a ghost is rolled for a villain, the mishaps rebound in their favor or temporarily make their powers more effective.

The second mechanic, Brownie Points, represent the character's accumulated "good karma", and can be used to increase the number of dice used in a task resolution roll, or even change the effects of a roll that would have otherwise failed. The points must be spent before rolling, however-one may not spend brownie points to obtain additional dice to roll once a roll has already failed. Each character begins the game with a pool of 20 Brownie Points, which decreases as they are used in play. In the first edition Brownie Points are also lost when characters are injured. Players earn replacement points for their characters by succeeding in Ghostmaster-appointed tasks, achieving their character's personal goal (for instance, Egon's is advancing the cause of science), and as rewards for good roleplaying.

Ghostbusters' task resolution system was influential on the development of other West End Games systems. A more detailed version of the system was used in the Star Wars role-playing game, and became the signature mechanic of the D6 System. As the first known "dice pool" system it had an influence on other role-playing games, too: after producing Ars Magica, Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein-Hagen were inspired by Ghostbusters to each design their own game based on "dice pool" resolution mechanics. Tweet produced the cult hit Over the Edge, whilst Rein-Hagen came up with the immensely successful Vampire: The Masquerade, the system of which would go on to drive the World of Darkness roleplaying games as well as Exalted and many other White Wolf Publishing games.


First Edition[edit]

The original Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game boxed set (ISBN 0-87431-043-1) was published in 1986. It contained a 24-page Training Manual (player handbook), a 64-page Operations Manual (GM's handbook), six six-sided dice (5 regular and 1 Ghost Die), and various handouts. West End Games published three accessories for the original Ghostbusters rules:

In 1987, Ghostbusters won the H.G. Wells Award for "Best Roleplaying Rules of 1986." [1]

Second Edition[edit]

In 1989, West End Games published a second, revised version of Ghostbusters, titled Ghostbusters International (ISBN 0-87431-223-X). The second version of the game was published both to capitalize on that year's release of the film Ghostbusters II, and to satisfy players who requested a more detailed set of rules.[4] This boxed set contained a single, 144-page rule book, six six-sided dice (5 regular and 1 Ghost Die), and handouts. West End Games published five accessories for the Ghostbusters International rules:

Ghostbusters and all of its supplements are currently out of print.


Terry Paul reviewed Ghostbusters in Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer No. 77.[5] Paul commented that "Ghostbusters, the Roleplaying Game is an all round quality product which is fun to read and even more fun to play and it is indeed well worth the price of purchase."[5]

James Wallis did a retrospective review of Ghostbusters for Arcane magazine, stating that "Is Ghostbusters really a classic? Members of the jury, consider this: its open-system has influenced game designs ever since, including Star Wars, Shadowrun and White Wolf's diametrically opposed World of Darkness series. All this, and it's still the only RPG in which you can snog Sigourney Weaver."[6]

Ghostbusters was ranked 37th in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time. The UK magazine's editor Paul Pettengale commented: "Ghostbusters sports a wacky collection of stats, a wild way of handling skills and combat, and instead of experience you earn Brownie Points. Really rather clever."[7]

James Wallis comments: "Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game remains a unique and audacious oddity, the brilliant forerunner of an entire genre that should have been and never was."[8]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ PETERSEN Sandy, WILLIS Lynn y STAFFORD Greg, Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game, West End Games, New York, 1986, ISBN 0-87431-043-1
  2. ^ "Charles S. Roberts/H.G. Wells Award Winners (1986)". Academy of Adventure Gaming, Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-11-08. Retrieved 2007-10-16. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ Haring, Scott D. (1999-11-25). "Second Sight: The Millennium's Most Influential Company and The Millennium's Most Underrated Game". Pyramid (online). Retrieved 2008-02-16.
  4. ^ Anonymous. "Ghostbusters Revisited", Polyhedron Newszine 49. (TSR, Inc., September 1989.)
  5. ^ a b Paul, Terry (February–March 1987). "Who Ya Gonna Play: Ghostbusters". Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer. Diverse Talents, Incorporated (77): 14.
  6. ^ Wallis, James (March 1996). "Despatches". Arcane. Future Publishing (4): 20.
  7. ^ Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35.
  8. ^ Wallis, James (2007). "Ghostbusters". In Lowder, James (ed.). Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 134–137. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
  • The Widow (February 1990). "Ghostbusters International". GamesMaster Magazine. 2 (6): 20. Review

Further reading[edit]

  • Farstad, Errol. "The Critical Hit" Polyhedron Newzine 35. (TSR, Inc., 1987).
  • Makransky, Barbara. "If There's Something Strange in Your Hobby Shop" Gateways Vol 2, No. 5 (Gateways Publications, Inc., August 1987).
  • Rolston, Ken. "Roleplaying Reviews" Dragon 132. (TSR, Inc., April 1988).

External links[edit]